Category: Peace


A Soul on Fire

[L]et us acquire the pure and guileless tears that come with the remembrance that we must die. There is nothing false in these, no sop to self-esteem. Rather do they purify us, lead us on in love of God, wash away our sins and drain away our passions.

~ St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 7

Given the morbid nature of the practice, it is refreshing to see St. John Climacus connect tears and sadness with meditation on one’s mortality. To assert that we ought not grieve for death, pace the Stoics, would be inhuman indeed.

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Make Safe the Way

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

~ Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (Latin: “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”) may be my favorite Advent hymn. It was originally written in Latin perhaps as early as the eighth century. The version most of us know in English comes from the mid-nineteenth century, a time when translations, however archaic at times, strove for beauty and in this case added even more to an already content-rich hymn. While I’m not certain what the nineteenth century translators would have thought, I have an idea what “the way that leads on high” might have meant in the eighth century, and I think this verse shines through in its insight into the Christian life. Continue reading

Roots of Salvation

When Abba Arsenius was still at the palace, he prayed the Lord saying: “Lord, show me the way to salvation.” And a voice came to him: “Arsenius, run from men and you shall be saved.” He went to become a monk, and again prayed in the same words. And he heard a voice saying: “Arsenius, be solitary: be silent: be at rest. These are the roots of a life without sin.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 2.3

Abba Arsenius may not have been the Roman Emperor, but he worked “at the palace” and likely enjoyed a very high quality of life for his time. Yet he finds that material comforts are not enough, and he prays, “Lord, show me the way to salvation.” The answer: “run from men and you shall be saved,” for him this meant becoming a monk, a hermit even. However, solitude, silence, and rest are not the exclusive property of hermits, even if they have much more abundant supply. A “life without sin” may be hard to come by in the world, but its roots can still grow in that soil. Continue reading

The Sabbath in a Cup

There were three friends, earnest men, who became monks. One of them chose to make peace between men engaged in controversy, as it is written: “Blessed are the peace-makers.” The second chose to visit the sick. Third chose to be quiet in solitude.

Then the first, struggling with quarrelling opponents, found that he could not heal everyone. And worn out, he came to the second who was ministering to the sick, and found him flagging in spirit, and unable to fulfil his purpose. And the two agreed, and went away to see the third who had become a hermit, and told him their troubles. And they asked him to tell them what progress he had made. And he was silent for a little, and poured water into a cup. And he said: “Look at the water.” And it was cloudy. And after a little he said again: “Now look, see how clear the water has become.” And when they leant over the water, they saw their faces as in a glass. And then he said to them: “So it is with the man who lives among men. He does not see his own sins because of the turmoil. But when he is at rest, especially in the desert, then he sees his sins.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 2.16

There are many internal disagreements over the Christian understanding of the Sabbath, the holy day of rest on the seventh day (Saturday). Furthermore, Jewish people tend to have a very strict tradition, but Christians have many practices and sometimes do not seem to celebrate it at all, instead focusing on Sunday (sometimes nearly as strictly as the Jews). In my own tradition, the Orthodox Church, there is a very helpful explanation, I think, rooted in ancient Christian tradition. Continue reading

Serenity: Mother of Chastity

An old man said: “Chastity is born of serenity, and silence, and secret meditation.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 5.25

Unchastity, and the lust from which it is born, is a problem that we do well to revisit often with an ear to the wisdom of the fathers. How many relationships, marriages, ministries, careers, and so on have been ruined by a person’s own lust? This unnamed old man offers an interesting insight to contemplate. If chastity is “born of serenity, and silence, and secret meditation,” then logically unchastity thrives where there is no serenity, no silence, and no secret meditation. Continue reading

Some Problems with the Problem of Evil

[I]t is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.

~ St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Logos of God, 1.4

The problem of evil is one of the most challenging and studied theological and philosophical problems. In academic discussions, it is typically formulated as follows:

  1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
  2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
  3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
  4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
  5. Evil exists.
  6. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
  7. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

While discussing the soundness of these premises is worthwhile in its own right, I do not think it actually represents the problem of evil, not as most people experience it anyway. That is, far more important, I think, is what has been called the existential problem of evil. It sounds more like this: “How could God let my mom die?” I do not think any answer to the theoretical problem will do unless it also addresses the existential problem. Continue reading

A Christian End

Priest: For a Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord.

People: Grant this, O Lord.

~ Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

This petition from the divine liturgy, which is part of the petitions just after the Great Entrance, puts so succinctly what we ought all to hope for in death: “a Christian end … peaceful, without shame and suffering.” Indeed, most of us quite naturally hope for the second part, if not the first. There is actually much that could be said about this petition, but in light of the recent passing of a member of our parish, I’d like to focus exclusively on this part. Continue reading

Meditations on Meditation

An old man said: “Take care to be silent. Empty the mind. Attend to your meditation, in the fear of God, whether you are resting in bed or at work. If you do this, you will not fear the assaults of demons.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.47

A distinctively Christian meditation is not so easy to come by these days, certainly not in the United States, at least. However, meditation has been a Judeo-Christian practice for as far back as we know. I offer here a few meditations on the subject from my own studies and experience.

The very first psalm contrasts the way of the righteous with the way of the impious and sinners. Of the righteous man, we are told, “His will is in the Law of the Lord, and in it he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The Lord, in fact, commanded the people of Israel to order their whole lives around meditating on the Law, putting commandments on their doorposts, talking about them whether walking or resting, standing or sleeping. It was always to be on their hearts, minds, and tongues.

For Christians, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. Thus meditation on the Law (though not neglected) is transcended by meditation on Christ himself. Eventually this developed into a very specific tradition known as the Jesus Prayer, the repetition of the name of Jesus, particularly through some variant of the following: “Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Continue reading

Christ is Risen!

Again, I thought of writing my own reflection, but I think I’d rather just share, for those who have not read it or heard it, the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom. This is read every year in every Orthodox parish on Pascha (Easter), and it is one of the highlights of the night. (We begin at 11pm.) Pascha, for us, is a season that begins with the feast today and does not end until forty days later on the feast of the Ascension. Thus, I’m sure I will have plenty of time for my own words. But for now, I will simply say that all the hope and joy and triumph and peace of Christianity is summed up in the single phrase: “Christ is risen!” Continue reading

Good Grief

Abba Poemen said also: “Grief is twofold: it works good, and it keeps out evil.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 3.12

Sayings like this (and there are many) are not easy to understand at first. The desert fathers and others talk about joy, and I have highlighted this in the past. So why grief? Why compunction? Why praise the virtues of a tearful life? There are many reasons, but I will look at just a few with reference to this saying of Abba Poemen here. Continue reading